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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Dinner and Community Conversation


On November 13, the Boisi Center hosted a dinner with two BC experts and two refugees who have resettled to the Boston area. The former included Westy Egmont, founder of the Boston College School of Social Works’ Immigrant Integration Lab, and Kristin E. Heyer, professor of theology. The latter included Rodrigue Kalambye (from the Congo) and Rafal Thaher (from Iraq).

Together, Egmont and Heyer introduced the current refugee crisis and discussed models of corrective engagement. Egmont underscored facts that Western media has understudied. These include the 40M internally displaced peoples (IDPs) in regions like Central America; the plight of Nigerians in Lake Chad Basin; as well as Bibi Bidi Refugee Camp in Northern Uganda, the world’s largest refugee camp.

To ameliorate the crisis, Heyer proposed a theological praxis: Catholic social teaching, which stresses a transnational focus on structural injustice, social examination, and restorative justice, as opposed to crisis management. Egmont called for a humanitarian approach––adopting the UN’s prescription of repatriation, resettlement, and reintegration, but also targeting the roots of current conflicts such as resource exploitation. Both cited examples of their recommendations in action––respectively, Pope Francis (sermonizing about the “globalization of indifference” and “anesthesia of the heart” in Lampedusa, Italy) and the German government (currently offering public assistance to resettled refugees).

Rodrigue Kalambye and Rafal Thaher then shared their stories of migration from the Congo and Iraq, respectively, and their resettlement to Boston. Following his father’s assassination, Kalambye fled the Congo via a freight truck. Thaher fled Baghdad to Syria in 2005 after American soldiers accidentally bombed her family’s compound. Both nevertheless proudly touted recent accomplishments––Kalambye received his GED, a milestone toward his dream of becoming a social worker; and Thaher became a U.S. citizen, invigorating her collegiate excellence and desire to enroll at Harvard University. Memorably, Thaher ended with an exhortation to all marginalized peoples in the United States: “Share your story.”